Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
>All-day kindergarten was one of the victims of Republican budget cuts this year. Ignoring the scientific research on the benefits (1,2) of early education, right-wingers in the Legislature and the Goldwater Institute said there was no data to prove it. (Ironically, this “no supporting data” argument was ignored when they funded abstinence only education, but that’s a story for another time.)
Repeatedly Arizona’s short-sighted Legislature has chosen to ignore our most vulnerable citizens by cutting education funding and thus forcing teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, shorter school years, and school closings. Arizona actually spends less per student than it did in 1987.
The crux of the problem is that Arizona’s Republican Governor and Legislature see public education as an unnecessary expense– not an investment in the state’s future.
When compared to other states, our rugged individualism has earned us the #50 slot in education funding and the #5 slot in jobs that don’t require a high school education. When compared to European countries, Arizona’s public education efforts are paltry, at best.
Today, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story about early childhood education in France, where all 3- and 4-year-olds attend public school.
“Society as a whole [not just students and parents] benefits from this,” said one French education official. Early childhood education is “not an expense but an investment.”
France’s Ecole Maternal — a nationwide, state-supported preschool– gives all French children the same start in life– regardless of income, gender, race or religion. According to the NPR reporter, the French view the Ecole Maternal as a symbol of their Republican Revolution, which toppled the French monarchy and brought equal rights and equal treatment for all citizens (including women).
In the US, preschool is a patchwork, and the determining factor is money. People who can afford it send their children to high-priced preschools (which offer a variety of stimulating experiences), hire in-home nannies, and/or have at least one stay-at-home parent.
Children growing up in middle and lower class homes have limited choices– low-cost preschools and day cares; preschool scholarships; care by family members or unlicensed baby-sitters; Head Start. For these families, all-day kindergarten helped their children catch up, and now it’s gone.
I know that the do-it-for-the-children, pro-education argument falls on deaf ears in the Arizona Legislature, but let’s look at this as capitalists. How can the US — and particularly Arizona– compete economically inn the global marketplace with an uneducated workforce?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not promoting a government requirement that would force parents to send all 3- and 4-year-olds to school. I am advocating for equal opportunities in education — and life. Arizona needs an attitude adjustment; we need more “liberty, equality, and fraternity” and less “I got mine; screw you.”
Arizona voters approved a new sales tax to fund education in May. We need to make sure the Legislature spends these funds wisely.